With billions of dollars in automatic government spending cuts just a week away, President Barack Obama placed calls to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on Thursday in an effort to reach a compromise to avert the looming cuts.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the president and the Republican leaders had "good conversations" but declined to provide further details about the calls.
"I think we all know what's on the table, what has been on the table from the President," Carney said at his daily press briefing.
He added, "We all know that the President supports the efforts of Senate and House Democrats to pass legislation that would postpone the sequester -- again, a manufactured crisis that's unnecessary -- and by postponing it, allow the Congress to take action on further and broader deficit reduction in a balanced way."
Boehner's and McConnell's offices confirmed the calls, with both indicating that the calls were the first substantive discussions with the president since before the fiscal cliff agreement was approved on New Year's Day.
Last Tuesday, White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett told NBC's "Today" that there had not been any recent meetings with Republican leaders in Congress about avoiding the automatic spending cuts.
Unless Congress acts, approximately $85 billion in automatic cuts to both defense and domestic spending are due to go into effect on March 1st.
The automatic spending cuts, known as the sequester, were implemented as part of the Budget Control Act of 2011 in order to push lawmakers to compromise on a broader budget agreement.
While Republicans have recently made a concerted effort to link the looming sequester to Obama, the results of a Pew Research/USA Today poll released Thursday showed that more Americans say the GOP would be to blame if the automatic spending cuts take effect.
The poll showed that 49 percent of Americans would blame Congressional Republicans if an agreement isn't reached before the deadline, while 31 percent said they would blame Obama. Another 11 percent said both would be to blame.
The plurality that said Republicans would be to blame may reflect the GOP's refusal to include tax increases in a budget agreement, as a vast majority of Americans said both spending cuts and tax increases should be a part of the next step to reduce the federal budget deficit.
Republicans have argued that the issue of increased revenues was addressed by the fiscal cliff agreement, which raised tax rates on families making more than $450,000 a year.
In an appearance on Al Sharpton's radio show on Thursday, Obama claimed that rejecting higher taxes on wealthy Americans is what binds the GOP together at this point.
"My sense is that their basic view is that nothing is important enough to raise taxes on wealthy individuals or corporations and they would prefer to see these kinds of cuts that could slow down our recovery over closing tax loopholes," Obama told Sharpton.
Meanwhile, Boehner spent much of an op-ed in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal attempting to link the sequester to Obama, calling it a "product of the president's own failed leadership."
Boehner and other Republicans have repeatedly noted that the GOP-controlled House passed two measures to replace the sequester last year, but the legislation was never dealt with by the Democratic-controlled Senate.
Democrats rejected the proposals, because they shifted the burden entirely away from defense spending and on to domestic programs such as Medicaid and food stamps.
by RTT Staff Writer
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